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Safer care for all

Solutions from professional regulation and beyond

In our report - Safer care for all - (published in September 2022) we examine the current state of professional health and care regulation in the UK. However we go beyond this in identifying and proposing solutions to some of the huge challenges facing health and social care today.

Our report considers four main themes:

  1. Tackling inequalities
  2. Regulating for new risks
  3. Facing up to the workforce crisis
  4. Accountability, fear and public safety

Next steps for Safer care for all and how it ties in with our strategic direction

We published Safer care for all in September 2022. Since then we have been carrying out extensive engagement with stakeholders (including by consulting on our draft Strategic Plan) to develop our focus for the next three years and plan for 2023-24.

During 2023/24 we intend to focus on the interlinked issues of workforce, inequalities and accountability. A recurring theme in our discussions with stakeholders was that of culture in health and care. We realise that the PSA, alone, cannot tackle poor workplace culture or the problems associated with it, but we hope that with the ambitious aims we've set out in our strategic plan, we can make a start and work with others to to highlight improvements needed to assure better and safer care for all.

  1. Workforce – we know that workforce shortages impact patient safety as well as professionals’ workplace wellbeing. We want to focus on building the evidence base around the regulatory barriers. Working with regulators and wider stakeholders, we want to identify solutions to help create a more agile workforce as well as encourage innovation. We think this work will help us shape a practitioner regulatory strategy. We believe this is needed to support health and care workforce strategies across the four countries of the UK.  
  2. Inequalities – in addition to the work we are doing to revise our expectations of how regulators will meet Standard 3 as part of our performance review process (Standard 3 of our Standards of Good Regulation is focused on regulators understanding the diversity of their registrants, patients and service users and not creating barriers through any of their processes/disadvantage people with protected characteristics), We are also introducing a new EDI standard for the Accredited Registers. Our work in this area will focus on engaging and convening stakeholders on key issues where we can add value and support action. This will include disseminating our consumer research on perceptions of discriminatory behaviour in health and care and looking at barriers to complaints and the role of healthcare professionals in tackling health inequalities.
  3. Accountability – our main focus in this area will be to work with regulators to encourage clear messaging on the role of professional regulators when there have been serious failures of care. We also want to facilitate and encourage stakeholders to look at how to learn from serious patient safety incidents. This will include consideration of the wider issues we are aware of that may impact on professionals’ fear of regulation and wider accountability mechanisms, such as blame culture, barriers to candour and experience of ‘moral injury’ by healthcare professional involved in major failures of care.      
  4. Safety system – work in this area will be primarily focused on building our evidence base on how the functions proposed for the Health and Social Care Safety Commissioner might be delivered in different ways across the four UK countries and engaging with existing bodies fulfilling some or all of these functions across the UK. We want to explore how improvements in the safety system might be achieved. We also intend to engage with stakeholders on the case for a more coordinated approach to public inquiries and reviews (through a Commissioner role or otherwise).     

We will continue having conversations with stakeholders as we take forward this work through the year so watch this space.


Take a closer look at the four issues

Tackling inequalities

There are still unequal and unfair outcomes for protected groups in aspects of professional regulation. There is also a lot we still do not know about how inequalities affect all-important complaints mechanisms when care has gone wrong – or indeed what this could tell us about biases in care itself. Professional regulation must work to address its own issues, and support professionals to help tackle inequalities in the design and delivery of care. But as a sector, we also need to be better at hearing diverse voices, and collecting, analysing and sharing data.

>>Find out more

Facing up to the workforce crisis

Workforce shortages are putting patients and service users at risk across the UK. Engrained attitudes to professional regulation and qualifications aren’t helping. Is it time to rethink the contribution of professional regulation to workforce planning?

>>Find out more

Regulating for new risks

Changes in the way that care is funded and delivered are sometimes made with limited focus on the risks and impacts on patients and service users, and how to manage them. Reforming the regulators gives us an opportunity to address known problems, and may even build in some agility for the future – if we take the opportunity presented to us. But we also need better, more reliable ways to anticipate these changes.

>>Find out more

Accountability, fear and public safety

Just cultures and individual accountability are both essential to better, safer care, and must coexist. Professional regulation should be clearer about its role, to reduce unnecessary anxiety and inappropriate complaints. We need to find ways for these new approaches to safety such as ‘safe spaces’, to incorporate openness with patients, service users and families, and action against individuals where it is needed for public safety.

>>Find out more

Read all recommendations

You can find a table of all our recommendations here. This is not also a case of the 'we say, you do' - we have also committed the Authority to play an active role in tackling these challenges. These commitments are also listed in the table.

What would you like to read?

We have several versions available.  Not got time to read the report in full? You can read through the executive summary here. This encapsulates the four main themes set out in the report as well as the recommendations we have put forward. Even more pressed for time? Then read The essentials - this (very) short section tells you what the report is all about.

You can also download:

There is also a Welsh translation available of front part of the report, including The essentials and the executive summary. You can download it here

We also have a Word version of the full report available. Please get in touch - using the email address below - if you would like a copy.

Please get in touch with us if you would like a Word version of the full report.

Starting the discussion

Safer care for all conference 

When we published Safer care for all in autumn 2022, one of our main aims was to start a debate on the issues highlighted and the recommendations we put forward in the report. To take the next steps we organised a conference. On 9 November 2022, over 250 attendees came together (virtually) to discuss issues highlighted in the report, including:

  • 'Does regulation need to change to deliver the workforce of the future?'
  • 'Do health/care professionals have a duty to tackle inequalities?'
  • 'Is regulation keeping patients safe?'
  • 'Are learning cultures compatible with individual accountability and openness when mistakes are made?'

The conference provided an opportunity to hear experts’ views as well as consider and contest the themes raised in the report. Speakers and delegates came from both professional and system regulators as well as patient organisations, the ombudsman, the NHS, health and care sector organisations and Chairs from major healthcare inquiries. You can find a summary of the main themes that came out of the discussions here.

Safer care for all guest blogs

We are also publishing a series of guest blogs written by stakeholders from across the sector. You can find all our guest blogs published to date below:

Read our blogs

Reflections from our roundtable in Scotland: barriers to complaining

Nov 17, 2023, 14:35 by Moi Ali, PSA Board Member
What are the barriers to complaining? In this blog, PSA Board member Moi Ali reflects on our recent roundtable in Scotland discussing this subject

PSA Board Member Moi Ali reflects on our recent roundtable in Scotland where the topic discussed was "why are there so many barriers to complaining?"

It’s commonly accepted that complaints are a great source of information, highlighting what an organisation is doing wrong, and what needs to be tackled to improve organisational performance. But if organisations generally, and healthcare regulators in particular, really value complaints, why are there so many barriers to complaining? And why is so little focus placed on removing obstacles? That was a topic that the PSA raised in its 2022 report Safer care for all and the focus for the PSA’s stakeholder event in September 2023 in Edinburgh.

I thought I knew a lot about complaints, having held many senior complaints roles over the years – including, currently, being the first Home Office Independent Complaints Examiner, and also undertaking a similar role for the Crown Prosecution Service. Nonetheless, I went away with plenty of food for thought. I’d been of the view that the so-called ‘chattering classes’ (I hate that term!) – namely, the affluent and well-educated middle classes – were well represented amongst complainants, and did not face the same barriers to complaining. I shall have to question my own prejudices following one participant’s insight: some women in that category are what she termed “people pleasers”, who are reluctant to complain because of the social expectations placed on them.

That got me thinking about another awful expression: “Karens”. My own kids introduced me to this undoubtedly pejorative term: “Oh mum, stop being such a Karen,” they exclaimed when I complained about poor service in a restaurant after a family meal. There certainly is pressure on middle class women not to complain, or to be stigmatised for doing so.

It is worth considering the correlation between a willingness to complain/ability to be heard by women and the apparently high volume of patient safety scandals and incidents affecting this group. In Safer care for all the PSA highlighted that, as well as the frequent occurrence of maternity scandals, both the Cumberlege Review and the Paterson Report highlighted harm caused to predominantly female patients and the difficulties faced by those trying to raise the alarm. The Cumberlege Review described a ‘denial’ of women’s concerns.

Another insight at the roundtable in Edinburgh came from Rosemary Agnew, the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO), on the need for child-friendly complaints procedures. Research carried out by YouGov on behalf of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) found that children (and younger people generally), but those from minority ethnic backgrounds, or with disabilities, are most likely to be affected by public service failures, yet least likely to complain.

Talking of the PHSO, a significant barrier to escalating complaints about Government Departments and other public bodies to this final tier of the complaints system is the requirement to have the matter referred by a Member of Parliament (MP). It would be unsurprising if the most disadvantaged (and least likely to complain) found this a deterrent. Although this doesn’t apply to complaints about the NHS which can be made directly to the PHSO (once the matter has been exhausted through other more local routes) or through an MP it still raises an interesting question about the persistence of such obstacles: Are barriers a deliberate part of rationing healthcare complaints? Discuss.

There are many possible reasons why people don’t complain. They may not realise that they can, or be unsure of how to access and navigate the complaints system. The complexity of their issue/concern may be a barrier – both understanding what went wrong and being able to articulate it. This can be magnified if there are literacy difficulties, English is not a first language, or they have special needs. People may be at a very low ebb, without the emotional energy to complain. They might be ill, or made ill by the stress. Then there’s digital exclusion, which may affect some older people, lower socio-economic groups, migrants and homeless groups.

One of the main reasons people don’t complain, even if they can, is that they feel that nothing will change as a result – or worse, they fear that access to the very services upon which they rely, the ones that have failed them, may be adversely affected if they complain. This was a theme which arose from research the PSA recently commissioned into perceptions of discriminatory behaviours in health and care where some participants feared the consequences if they raised concerns about their experiences of discrimination. This too is unsurprising, but the real challenge is how regulators can reach out to under-served communities to encourage legitimate complaints by building trust in the complaints system amongst those groups least likely to complain. It’s a big ask, but a necessary one if the profile of complainants is to change.

And what exactly is the profile of complainants? Monitoring change requires an analysis of who currently complains and, crucially, which groups don’t – and why. As the PSA highlighted in Safer care for all, the data on who does and doesn’t complain is extremely patchy, particularly demographic information, making it difficult to get an accurate picture of who is and isn’t complaining.  Next, an action plan needs to be drawn up and implemented. Performance needs to be measured along the way, and plans amended as necessary. All of this takes time and money – and it takes staff. This, at a time when some of the regulators are struggling to fill fitness to practice vacancies so that complaints can be investigated and, where necessary, put before panels. Perhaps more cross-working across regulators may be part of the solution.

In Safer care for all we recommended that:

  • Regulators work with other health and care bodies to gain a better understanding of the demographic profile of complainants and reduce barriers to raising complaints for particular groups.
  • Demographic data on complaints made to the health and care services across the UK is recorded and made available for all bodies to use.

There is a role for us at the PSA in pushing for more accessible complaints systems across health and care, and for sharing best practice. As a first step, building on the discussion in Scotland, we will be holding an event with the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman in January 2024. This event will bring together health and care sector stakeholders to look at what we know about the barriers that currently exist and promote practical action and solutions to address these. However, we will need to think about further steps we as an organisation can take to bring about change in this area.    

I for one stand ready to support this worthwhile piece of work, so that we can start to see the demographic widen, as complaints processes recognise and remove barriers and thereby widen the diversity of those complaining.

Get in touch

Contact us if you would like to join the discussion about how we can work together to make health and social care safer for all. You can get in touch by emailing